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Chairman: Ga. Senate will back $100 lobbying cap
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Senate will propose a $100 cap on lobbyist expenditures, not an outright ban, creating a conflict with House lawmakers in the waning days of the General Assembly's annual session, a leading Senate Republican said Wednesday.

The Senate Rules Committee will meet Thursday to put forward its version of lobbying restrictions originally written by House Speaker David Ralston, said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the committee chairman. Mullis said he hopes the full Senate will vote on the proposal Friday. The committee had originally planned to meet Wednesday.

If lawmakers want to send a bill to Gov. Nathan Deal, they will have to act quickly. Any legislation not approved before the General Assembly ends its annual 40-day session on March 28 automatically fails for the year.

"On midnight on Thursday it's over regardless of whether we're finished with it or not," said Mullis, who acknowledged the looming deadline in an interview. He said approving a bill by Friday would give House lawmakers time to study it next week before they decide whether to approve changes made by the Senate.

House and Senate leaders are divided on the specifics of Ralston's proposal.

Ralston's plan would generally prohibit lobbyists from spending money on individual lawmakers, though it leaves big exceptions. For example, lobbyists could still legally wine and dine legislative committees, caucuses and delegations. Lobbyists could also pay for lawmaker travel to events related to their official duties, though not airfare.

Several senators have criticized Ralston's plan because it could require that some people seeking to influence lawmakers on behalf of nonprofit or small groups register as lobbyists and comply with financial disclosure requirements. The state Senate earlier this year imposed an internal rule banning its members from accepting gifts worth more than $100 from lobbyists, not an outright prohibition.

Mullis said enacting a total ban could prevent people from spending even nominal sums when meeting with lawmakers.

"I think it's important we have a mechanism like a $100 cap so we can build those relationships," Mullis said.

Mullis said Georgia voters supported a cap in a nonbinding ballot question this summer. About 87 percent of voters in the Republican primary election — roughly 827,800 people — voted in support of a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts. Nearly 73 percent of voters in the Democratic primary — about 423,800 people — voted in support of stopping unlimited lobbyist spending on lawmakers, though that ballot question did not propose a specific limit.

It is unclear whether the Senate plan will prove acceptable to Ralston, who mocked as "gimmicks" the internal Senate rules setting the $100 cap. Ralston spokesman Marshall Guest said Wednesday the speaker wanted to see the Senate plan before commenting on it.